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User Journal

Journal Journal: Good Technology and the Entrenched User

Habit tends to win out over good technology and positive change. Human beings, in general, don't respond well to change. This makes it difficult to implement technological improvements. This is especially true if the end user has formed entrenched habits around specific technologies.

After spending a number of years developing web 2.0 tools for science it is interesting to note how many times I see this. People will nod and appreciate the value of a new tool but will revert to what they know through experience. Many times the learning curve is used as an explanation for this although this can be a bit of a red herring. In most cases there is an emotional investment in a specific technology.

Operating systems and word processors could be used as examples of this. Most people will never use the majority of features offered by modern word processing software. Yet, often, those very unused software features are used as selling points as to why an individual would not switch to something simpler, less expensive, or better.

Many technologies are selected by people due to emotional attachment rather than reason. Many technologies are also selected to support existing peer groups rather than the fundamentals of good business sense.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Recycling Paper is Bad for the Environment

The rush to be environmentally friendly has caused many to suspend their healthy skepticism of the accepted green techniques.

Common environmental lore dictates that recycling paper is beneficial to our environment. Is this, in fact, the case?

The recent UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland, produced some information that seemed to indicate that what we assume to be harmful to the environment may be just the opposite.

see: The article

This got me thinking about recycling, the goodness of it, and the possible flaws as well.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not advocating everyone cease recycling. We need to keep as much stuff out of landfills as possible, or at least be organized enough with our waste so as to completely eliminate it. There should really be no need for landfill sites. Raw materials, like metals and plastics, should be reused. Current landfills are the highest grade mining deposits of raw materials on the planet. Why mining companies aren't actively vying for those pure ores is a mystery, since:

  • a.) we know where they are.
  • b.) There's already a road to get there.
  • c.) processing it can only be an improvement to the environment.

I live in a region that is forest rich. Forest commodities are the lifeblood of almost every community here. Global warming, however, is changing that. Insects, which were once killed by long cold winters, are now eating their way through the forests. The rate of deforestation due to climate change has accelerated far beyond anything that logging could ever accomplish. In fact, most of those trees need to be removed, to make way for species that are less affected by insects. If logging doesn't remove the diseased trees, a lightning strike and massive fire most certainly will. Logging these dying trees is mostly a band-aid solution, since there is no real market for all that wood. Some of it is converted into secondary products, the rest is chipped and burned for electricity.

Producing energy from wood is a good thing. Wood is a unity fuel. Burning wood can never produce more carbon dioxide than it sucks from the air while the tree grows.

In 1995 the world produced over 266,000,000,000 metric tonnes of pulp and paper. Most of this was produced from trees. Trees are not the most efficient producer of fiber. Trees are very slow growing and textile crops like flax and hemp have been shown to produce better yields per area of land used.

My bone of contention is with paper recycling.

In the context of global climate change we have been stymied for want of methods to reduce greenhouse gases;mainly carbon dioxide. Paper is a product that actually contains carbon captured from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. In light of recent research into biochar , would it not make more sense not to recycle paper?

By focusing our efforts on producing pulp from plants other than trees, and treating and landfilling waste paper, we could mitigate huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the Earths atmosphere each year.

Instead of recycling paper we should:

  • Concentrate efforts on only using paper that is not made from wood pulp.
  • Don't burn paper in incinerators. Treat waste paper with H2SO4 (sulphuric acid).
  • Recover the H2SO4 and use it again.It's just a catalyst.
  • Bury the paper or use it for biochar on our fields as a fertilizer. Burying it will make it disappear forever. Using as fertilizer will make it disappear for several hundred (possibly thousand) years.

By treating waste paper with sulphuric acid, the paper becomes mostly carbon as water is catalyzed away. By burying the treated paper the carbon could be locked away permanently. We would essentially be performing the same process that makes coal at a much higher speed than geology could do it.

What are the benefits of this?
The reduction in transport of recycled paper from the homes of millions of, albeit well meaning, householders would substantially reduce carbon emissions produced by hauling the same paper as many as 5 times during the process. If householders generated their own biochar (paper carbon) and put that at the curb, as much as 60 percent of the fuel used to haul the waste paper could be eliminated; cellulose (paper) being only 40 percent carbon.

Plants are the Earths most efficient mechanisms for sequestering atmospheric carbon. We should be utilizing this mechanism as much as possible to halt and reverse global climate change. The techniques we use, and financially support, to 'save' the planet need to be critically assessed. We need to do this sooner rather than later.

My suggestion is that householders should burn their household paper in a closed container and only send the left over carbon to the dump.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Drilling Holes in Earths Crust for Geothermal Energy

Current approaches to drilling into the Earth seem to center on duplication of technology used to drill for water or oil.
      Drilling into the Earth to produce
geothermal energy only requires that the material produced by drilling may be removed from the hole at a fast enough rate to allow drilling to be maintained.
      One of the main concerns of making bore holes into the Earth is the amount of torque required to produce the hole. It must be kept in mind that the average thickness of the earths crust is over 30Km. The thinnest parts of the crust are in the oceans near trenches (~20Km), continents are the thickest (~40Km).
      It's necessary to have power where population requires it. This means that most geothermal drills will be near the coasts or perhaps drilled the full 40+ Km depth near to inland cities.
      Drilling holes with conventional drilling equipment is possible but not likely. New drilling equipment is required to drill these massively deep holes.
      One idea is to use a smaller version of the machine used to create the chunnel from England to France. This machine was designed to cut through limestone (chalk) which is very soft compared to most rock. Certainly a similar design could be made to produce, smaller diameter, vertical bore holes. Guided by gravitational instruments this machine could move, nearly autonomously, downward, requiring only power to be supplied. This would also resolve the torque problem, since the torsion aspects of the machine are only the length of the machine itself.

      At this point the greatest problem would become the removal of drilled material from the bore hole.
      Pumping the ground up material, as mud, would provide the easiest method for removal.

      Consider the amount of material being removed from a 2 meter diameter bore, 40Km into the Earth. Using the formula for the volume of a cylinder and assuming the material is dried:

Volume = ((Pi*Radius)^2)*40000

Volume = 394784 Cubic Meters of material.

      This is a cube of material approximately 74 meters on a side that must be hauled away and dumped. This material could be used a construction material or to level and stabilize lands elsewhere.
    The calculated volume is optimistic. This doesn't take into account ground water or other fluids that may enter he drill hole and mix with the material to make mud. Some water may be added to aid in lubrication of the drill.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Diving Bells

I worked out the mass of polycarbonate plastic required to make a 3 metre diameter by 6 metre tall bell jar with a wall thickness of 10 cm.
(Heavy man...nice too)

I am wondering about the optical properties of polycarbonate at a thickness greater than 5 cm...

The visual properties could start getting cloudy at this thickness, and the whole point of the excercise is to make a clear viewing platform.
If you can't see through it there's no point.

I'll work up some more numbers this week.
Need to find a bulk supplier of clean polycarbonate prills. (8 tons ought to do it)


I have decided that polycarbonate is not
the way to go.
Due to the leaching of Bisphenol-A from
the plastic into the ocean, the bell would
soon become a contributor to oceanic pollution.
Not very good if you're attempting to be a naturalist.

Glass, now there's the ticket. Although,
glass takes a great deal of energy to

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